Gov. Ron DeSantis paid another visit to Matlacha this morning to reassure residents of Southwest Florida that the state is financially behind those affected by Hurricane Ian and announced an additional $7.7 million in workforce grants.
“You’ve seen me here a lot in the last 6 or 7 weeks.” DeSantis said, adding that he had to spend time across the coast because of Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall on November 10.
Acknowledging widespread damage in Lee County, DeSantis gave a shout out to the locals who worked hard to get everything back together, as well as those at the state level and even those across the country who came to help and lend a hand verbal thumbs up.
“It was something we knew was going to be difficult but we said we understand it’s going to take a lot of effort but we’re going to do well with it and we’re going to get through it.” DeSantis said as he stood with Senate President-elect Kathleen Passidomo and Secretary of Economic Opportunities Dane Eagle before a supportive crowd at Miceli’s Restaurant on Pine Island Road.
In the days after Hurricane Ian, DeSantis said he was contacted directly about the Matlacha Bridge. He was able to reply to the islanders immediately after they were told that there was no solution for the road leading to the bridge, meaning travel to and from Pine Island was by water only.
“We decided to take that — not our road, not our bridge — at the state level,” said DeSantis, adding that all you have to do is put the bureaucracy aside and get things done.
“We got it up and running in three days”, he said to a crowd, who happily applauded in response. Florida First Lady, as he called his wife Casey DeSantis, set up the Florida Disaster Fund for charitable donations even before Hurricane Ian made landfall, a fund that has since raised more than $55 million for storm victims, he said .
“We’ve already distributed more than $7 million through the fund — and that’s things like supporting our first responders who have been impacted, supporting our school teachers, helping residents repair and rebuild their homes, and more is on the way.” said DeSantis.
Some work may be done in the coming weeks to provide funds to groups that don’t currently qualify under Florida statutes, he said, although he was pleased to announce that an additional $1 million from the Florida statute Florida Disaster Fund.
“This will be to help emergency management personnel, National Guardsmen and other community members who have been displaced or adversely affected by the hurricane.” said DeSantis.
These funds can help people with basic livelihoods like shelter, food, transportation, and also reconstruction and repair efforts.
DeSantis said he has no doubt that this area is primed for a major economic boom because that’s a big part of the world.
“People see how beautiful it is. You’ve seen the community’s resilience…Southwest Florida boomed during the pandemic because we were open. A lot of people have moved here or vacationed here to get away from some of the bad policies, so we’ve really been able to capitalize on that, at the same time, something like this really impacts the economy,” said DeSantis.
The need to ensure everything is in place for a boom in the future is a priority, he said, stressing that training opportunities are available to people who will fill key positions in our workforce and economy, such as skilled workers.
He said $7.7 million was awarded to workforce education funds through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant program and the Job Growth Grant Fund, and $1 million through the Florida Disaster Fund.
State College of Florida received $2.9 million to expand commercial driver license and logistics programs. Florida Southwestern State received $2 million to expand information technology education. South Florida State College received $618,000 to expand its CDL and sweat programs. Fort Myers Technical College received $973,000 to expand programs in diesel maintenance and mechanical engineering. Cape Coral Technical College received $200,000 to expand its nursing program. CareerSource Florida was awarded $1 million to expand services.
“This will ultimately represent approximately 3,200 students who will be equipped with skills that go beyond and can help propel this economy forward in the future… We understand that this is a very multi-faceted recovery process. We will try to do everything we can in all areas. I know we’ll be in a special session of the Legislature in December, we’ll be announcing those dates shortly, but it’s going to happen — we’re going to do the property tax breaks for the people whose homes were destroyed. We look forward to being able to do that.” said DeSantis.